DALLAS MARKET BUYERS CAUTIOUS ON BUDGETS, SERIOUS ON ORDERING

Byline: Holly Haber

DALLAS--Retailers who turned out for the holiday market at the International Apparel Mart here last week were serious about placing orders and booking goods for deliveries from June through November, but caution was often reflected in their budgets. This plus a dip in traffic sometimes gave the event the look of a typically slack holiday market.
Among the best-selling styles for fall and holiday were: printed satin skirts; twinsets; dresses mixing velvet and satin; jackets trimmed with faux fur; military style jackets; cotton knit playwear, and slim columns, cocktail dresses and suits with a smattering of bugle beads, rhinestones or metallic thread.
For summer fill-ins, simple drop-waist denim dresses were hot.
The five-day show ran through June 12, and several sales representatives estimated bookings would be flat at best or down as much as 20 percent. They blamed three factors for the sluggish totals: meager retail sales, cutbacks on travel expenses by retailers, and a big drop in sales at stores in south Texas and near the border due to the weak Mexican peso. Several unhappy reps raised a familiar cry to eliminate the June event or combine it with the August show. Others, however, pointed out that even at a slow market they do more business than they would on the road.
To buttress the June market and soothe the controversy, the Dallas Market Center Co. plans to propose shortening the June show by one day.
"I think the industry will always need a June market in Dallas, so we're going to see how we can strengthen it," said Cindy Morris, executive vice president, marketing. "In the next few weeks we're going to be surveying our exhibitors about the possibility of consolidating it into a four-day show Thursday through Sunday. This way the manufacturers can be back in their own showrooms to do business on Monday."
Attendance slid only a few percent below last June, Morris said. She theorized that some business had suffered because "there aren't a lot of bright spots in the apparel business right now."
Stores, for the most part, reported budgets flat or down slightly, although there were exceptions, with open-to-buys individually going from down 25 percent to up 50 percent.
"Versatility" and "longevity" emerged as buzzwords, as merchants demanded styles that could work for more than one purpose.
"People don't want sequins and chiffon that you wear once and that's it," noted Geraldine Holmes, owner of Geraldine's in Enid, Okla. "I'm looking for things that will go a lot of places. Everyone is kind of price-conscious and wants something that looks good and is made well and doesn't cost an arm and a leg."
She planned to order from David Dart because "a lot of people can wear it, and older people like that young look." Also on her list were cleanly styled, tailored dresses by Carolina Herrera Studio, Russ Berens cotton knitwear, dresses by Cynthia Rowley, a wool and suede fringed jacket by Double D Ranchwear and Berek novelty sweaters.
Holmes said business had fallen off this year due to wet weather and the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. "I cut back my budget about 25 percent because I don't want to be in a position where I'm in trouble," she reasoned.
"It has been very difficult," echoed Cricket Krug, owner of Mr. Goodbye's Boutique in Houston. "People are not buying as much and not coming in like they used to. Life has gotten so casual that there's no dress code anymore, and that hurts. My key word for the Nineties is 'adjust."'
Krug's strategy is to stock up on more casual sportswear, like the lace-up thermal jersey and leggings she was ordering from Fitigues. She had slashed her budget about 20 percent, corresponding with the drop in business so far this year.
"Business is spotty, very roller coaster," said Jean Smith, a principal in Accente, Houston, which runs 13 specialty stores. "We'll be very cautious, but I feel strongly for fall and we're planning it just a little ahead."
She planned to stick with top performers: Moschery sportswear, Michael Simon novelty sweaters and body-conscious dresses from MZM.
Robert Benham, owner of Balliet's in Oklahoma City, said his business has been surprisingly healthy despite the April 19 bombing, which shook his store in a retail and office complex four miles away. Sales are up about 5 percent so far this year, and he planned to spend 4 percent more for holiday.
"We're still looking for pretty clothes that are a little bit special but not crazy--that's really what customers want," Benham said. "Customers are asking for versatility and value."
Balliet's has done exceptionally well with St. John Knits, which Benham credited to the line's versatile styling. Citing strength in bridge, Benham planned to order from Citi by Yansi Fugel, Moschery, Laurel and Finity. He also was filling in with immediate orders from Kenar Dress, which Benham called "a terrific seller."
April and May saw 30 and 40 percent sales increases at Byzantine, a 16-month-old contemporary store here, but its owners are raising their holiday budget only 15 percent since sales last fall were disappointing.
"We'll fill in if it's better," said co-owner Victoria Jackson, who was buying for the store with her husband, Christopher Crew, and partner, Sheree O'Roark.
"I think diversity is the key," said Jackson. "You have to have a little bit of everything."
Among their finds were printed and fringed wrap skirts paired with denim shirts by Entre Nous, denim dresses by Dennis Goldsmith, denim and plaid flannel dresses by Melinda Zollar, and long Empire dresses by Caron Joy.
The trio also decided to test Chinese-style printed rayon dresses by Mica and long satin bias-cut skirts by Bonnie Strauss and Laundry for immediate delivery.
"We love the clothing," Jackson enthused. "We love the fitted styles, the retro jackets, the twinsets with rhinestone buttons and satin as a trim or as a bottom with sweater sets. We're hoping for a big sweater year this year, because they look so different."
Ken Knight's three-year-old eponymous contemporary store here also is building its business, and Knight had hiked his budget a hefty 50 percent. Seeking dresses and suitings for August through October deliveries, Knight picked up sportswear by Taryn de Chellis and Leon Max, a dress with a sheer overlay by L. Bates, and black and chocolate tie-front dresses in various combinations of taffeta, chiffon, velvet, satin and crepe by Elizabeth Wayman. The tie-front styles from Wayman have remained Knight's bestseller for more than a year.

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